At a third annual pig picking celebration this week, entrepreneurs at the First Flight Venture Center pitched in to recognize the 37 startups currently based there and the achievements over the past five years. Highlights include bioMASON winning an international “green challenge” and Center tenants landing more than $5 million in grants and equity financing.

The Center has not received the attention that has flowed toward other startup hubs, such as the American Underground and Underground @ Main in Durham as well as the Hub in Raleigh. But First Flight can trace its origins back more than 20 years, although only within the past decade has its focus shifted entirely to emerging ventures.

That’s especially the case now under the direction of Andy Schwab, who succeeded the late John Draper in April 2011. Schwad, a veteran entrepreneur and angel investor, actively recruits new firms and works with board members along with mentors and volunteers to help firms migrate beyond a network needed by early-stage ventures.

At the pig picking, Schwab pointed out that First Flight looks to host companies that “solve real-world problems. He also stressed that, given the Center’s track record, it is a  ”vital community resource for technology entrepreneurs and plays a unique role in the ever expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Triangle.”

First Flight does not operate in isolation but as an active partner in the Triangle’s ever-growing attempts to foster more startup activity.

“From HQ Raleigh, CED, NC Idea, Groundworks labs, Blackstone, NC Biotech, all of our world-class university partners and many others, this region has developed a startup fabric that is now gaining national recognition,” Schwab said. “We congratulate the American Underground on their recent announcement as a Google Tech Hub and we believe national recognitions of this caliber will continue to come to this region.”

The record shows First Flight’s importance in the startup efforts.

“In the last two decades First Flight has seen over 275 companies pass through our doors,” he pointed out.

“Many well-known entities have started here: United Therapeutics, SciQuest, Overture, Affinergy, Sageworks, Athenix, Ganymede, Saffron, Bloodhound and many more. This year alone, two companies that began their journey here were acquired by global entities: Exam Design was sold to Pearson, a multi-billion dollar educational company and recently, Advanced Liquid Logic was acquired by Illumina, a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools. Congratulations to Scott Bulblitz and Rich West as well as your exceptional teams.

“Currently First Flight hosts 37 companies in our facility and another 20 very early stage companies through our Friends program. These companies are addressing major problems related to HIV, cancer, sepsis, depression, green solutions reducing global CO2, anti counterfeiting, personalized medicine and many other problems affecting not only the US, but the world.”

BioMASON’S winning of the recent international Postcode Lottery Green Challenge has been the big headline generator recently for First Flight, but Schwab noted that several startups at the center have been successful grants and equity financing,

“Amazingly,” Schwab said, “in this challenging financial climate the total combined funding raised by First Flight companies in 2013 from grants and equity financing exceeded $5M.”

Board members at the Center include Fred Hutchison, Mary Musacchia, Larry Wilson, Ken Tindall, Cam Patterson and Chairman Terry Kane.

First Flight also has several “entrepreneurs in residence” who volunteer services to First Flight companies. The entrepreneurs include Ronda Closner, Bobby Braham, Hugh Dawson, Preston Linn, Edison Hudson and Joe Spratt.

Supporting firms are Wyrick, Robbins; Hutchision Law; Olive Law Group; NK Patent Law; Worldwide Medical Products; Innovalyst; Scale Finance; and IAS Associates.

Tenant companies BaseTrace, Nirvana Sciences, CertiRx and Ridge Diagnostics received special mention from Schwad for reaching a variety of benchmarks.

Schwab then praised Ginger Dosier of bioMASON.

“We are very fortunate to have at First Flight a company that has gained international recognition for its work,” Schwab said. “The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is the largest annual worldwide competition for sustainable entrepreneurs who instigate change. Competing companies must have products or services that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an amount that can be estimated, be developed enough to execute, be realizable as usable product or service within the next two years and preferably have integrated Cradle-2-Cradle principles in their designs. The chairman of the 2013 Lottery Challenge was Sir Richard Branson.

“Over 300 companies competed in this year’s challenge and First Flight is proud to be the home for Ginger Dosier and her team at bioMASON, the winner of the 2013 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. Congratulations Ginger and bioMASON.”